Sit! Stay! Read! May is National Pet Month. To celebrate, learn how to help your fur-friend look and feel like top dog (or cat), naturally. Whether it’s fleas, dermatitis, bad breath or a dull coat that has your Fluffy or Fido in a tailspin, certain herbs can help.

Irritations that can make you feel uncomfortable in your skin can also affect your dog or cat, including contact dermatitis, insect bites and sunburn (yeah, sunburn). Even environmental or food-related allergies can trigger endless scratching and hair loss. The first step in intervention is a consultation with your veterinarian to rule out a serious medical condition. This is vitally important if there is an ongoing problem or significant hair loss or itching, which could leave your pet vulnerable to infection. Also, feed your pet the best possible diet that you can afford, preferably one free of chemical additives, meat by-products, wheat gluten and other fillers. Having covered those bases, minor problems can be addressed safely at home with some of the following suggestions.

Please note that more is not better when it comes to using herbs on pets, especially when essential oils are called for. So, don’t be tempted to use more than what’s recommended here; one or two drops means just that. Be especially wary when applying essential oils to miniature breeds of dogs and cats that weigh less than 8 pounds. If you have any doubt at all, call your veterinarian for advice. Do not use herbal remedies on kittens or puppies without professional supervision.

Paws for Thought: If you don’t have an animal companion right now, consider opening your heart and home and adopting an animal in need from your local animal shelter!


The fuzzy leaves of this plant contain a high amount of mucilage, which is very soothing to skin. This herb also has antiseptic and mild analgesic properties. To use, pack a mason or jelly jar with the dried, cut leaf and pour over just enough witch hazel to cover. Let the mixture infuse for 2-3 weeks, then strain and pour off the liquid into a clean jar. This mullein infusion may be applied topically with a cotton ball to minor wounds, rash – just about any skin irritation. Mullein is particularly helpful in treating itch caused by ear mites. (Note that mullein does not prevent or get rid of ear mites.)


This herb is anti-inflammatory, antifungal and astringent. It also stimulates growth in epithelial tissue, which is necessary for wounds to close and heal. To use, make an infusion with the dried leaf and witch hazel as described for mullein. You can also apply 1-2 drops of the essential oil, diluted in carrier oil, like sweet almond, sesame or jojoba.


This is one of the most effective herbs to ease dry, itchy skin. It’s also one of the easiest to apply since chamomile is so widely available as a tea. Simply enjoy a cup of brew and then save the tea bag to use like a ready-made poultice! Just remember to let the tea bag cool before dabbing it on your pet’s skin.


This is the botanical choice for insect bites and stings, burns, minor cuts, scrapes and rash. Use 1-2 drops of the essential oil of lavender, diluted with carrier oil.


If your dog’s breath makes you want to roll over and play dead, toss a few whole fennel seeds into his food. Not only will this help to sweeten his breath, but it will also enhance his digestion.


Dandelion leaf (as well as dandelion root) helps to detoxify your pet after completing treatment with antibiotics or other synthetic drugs.

Specific Conditions


“Infuse” a fabric pet collar with 2 drops each of cedar, rosemary, lemongrass, basil and citronella essential oils. Let the collar dry thoroughly before putting on your pet. You’ll need to reapply the oils every 2-3 months and anytime the collar is allowed to get very wet.

Hot Spot Treatment

In a small, clean spray bottle, combine 5 oz of distilled water with ¼ teaspoon neem oil and 2 drops each of chamomile, lavender and tea tree essential oils. Shake well before using. Note: This formula should not be used on cats.


Consider introducing alfalfa to your pet’s diet, either mixed into food or added in capsule form. Alfalfa is loaded with minerals and contains 8 amino acids that support immune function and joint health.

Digestive Issues

Powdered slippery elm bark is just the thing to counter vomiting, diarrhea and other signs of digestive problems. See your veterinarian if these symptoms become chronic or severe.